Self-taught cook achieved celebrity status
Moffa Elda's renown as a self-taught Italian cook spread throughout her long life, so much so that professional chefs looked to her for advice.
“She had a lot of patience for small cookies. She taught me a lot. I would always look forward to her coming down to work with us,” said Rizzi DeFabo, head chef at Rizzo's Malabar Inn, Crabtree.
Mrs. Elda was a regular feature at the restaurant's St. Joseph Festival on March 19 and the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Festival on July 16, both in Crabtree, where she assisted with the making of specialty pastries.
“She would come (to Rizzo's) at 7 in the morning and stand there for hours and make the St. Joseph pants (a pastry filled with chickpeas),” DeFabo said, noting that the pastries are given away during the festival.
Mofalda “Moffa” Elda, of Crabtree, died Monday, May 14, 2018, at RNC Pittsburgh, Greensburg. She was 100.
Born in the Greensburg area on Aug. 27, 1917, she was a daughter of the late Sabatino and Catherine Marcelli.
Although she baked bread with her mother when she was young, Mrs. Elda was largely self-taught as a cook and baker. She was especially known for her cookies, her wedding cakes and her pasta dishes, said her daughter, Janet Karas.
“She was basically a pasta person. She didn't like red meat other than meatballs,” Karas said. “She made everything from scratch. Up until a year ago, she was still making homemade ravioli and homemade spaghetti.”
Some of her other specialties were homemade gnocchi and pierogi — tributes to the Italian and Polish families who settled in Crabtree and worked in the coke ovens.
Family members always looked forward to her traditional Italian meal on Christmas Eve, followed by midnight Mass, she said.
As word of her skills spread, Mrs. Elda made cookies at Christmastime for friends and neighbors. She taught herself cake decorating and baked made-to-order wedding cakes.
DeFabo, 45, of Greensburg said Mrs. Elda had a natural talent and shared her gifts with others. “She always knew a trick of the trade,” he said. “I'd call her throughout the years and ask her how to make things. She'd always call me her grandson.”
Mrs. Elda attributed her long life to “clean living,” Karas said. “She always said she never smoked and she never drank.”
She also enjoyed bingo and playing the slots at the Meadows Racetrack and Casino and other casinos. Until two weeks ago, she played bingo three nights a week at the St. Bartholomew Parish Marian Hall, the West Point Fire Hall and Greensburg Hose Company No. 7, Karas said.
“That was her favorite pastime,” she said. “If she had her way, she'd go to bingo every single night of the week.”
Mrs. Elda was preceded in death by her husband, Guy J. Elda.
She is survived by her children, Cecelia Ungvarsky of Greensburg, Janet Karas of Greensburg, James Elda of Crabtree, and Mary Ann Cantrell of Paoli; and four grandchildren.
Friends will be received 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Clement L. Pantalone Funeral Home, 409 W. Pittsburgh St., Greensburg. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Bartholomew Church, Crabtree. Interment will follow at Calvary Hill Cemetery, Crabtree.
Memorial contributions may be made to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel c/o St. Bartholomew Church, 2538 Route 119, Crabtree, PA 15624.